12:20 left, first quarter: Can the Commodores run like this all night? Can tailbacks juke South Carolina's front seven all night? Can Vanderbilt convert third and six all night? How many Vanderbilt passes will we see tonight? So much intrigue after just two minutes and 40 seconds of college football. Welcome, season.
10:10: James Franklin is trying to set a tone and establish a mindset with that call. Moreover, a slightly better pass would have gotten the first down. Can't complain with the decision to go for it or the play call.
9:55: AND THEN THAT HAPPENED.
7:43: That run between the tackles, initiated with a pitch to the tailback, was used far too often. South Carolina snuffed it out and put the Commodores behind the sticks. Run-versus-pass balance is often overrated as a football need. What's underrated: the variations of running or passing plays – make each running play a different kind of running play.
6:55: South Carolina's offense is doing a great job for Vanderbilt tonight. One will remember how horrible the Gamecocks looked the last time they played in Nashville on a Thursday night (2008).
5:29: This is a great timeout by James Franklin. Nerves are at work here, and the game plan has been very limited.
5:15: Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, Sweet Jesus, no.
4:55: Are any words necessary at this point, other than ones that curse the heavens? Um, well, uhh… no.
3:14: Vanderbilt spent eight months preparing for THIS game and THIS moment, and in a heartbeat, the Dores' chances went from great to slim, their hopes from the highest peak to the lowest valley. This team is understandably deflated at the moment; it must fight through this period, stay within one score, and change the energy on the field.
0:46: The Connor Shaw keeper just might be a play for Vanderbilt linebackers to key on, eh?
End of First Quarter Score: South Carolina 7, Vanderbilt 0. A season of hope, optimism, confidence, and boundless energy… that was the theme at 6 p.m. Nashville time. At 6:40 p.m., the mood is quite different. That's life in the big-boy SEC and big-ticket college football. How will these Dores respond in quarter number two? They have to rise up if this game is going to remain a contest in the fourth quarter.
11:49 left, second quarter: Replay is inconclusive there. Had the original call on the field been that Shaw's knee was down, the play probably wouldn't have been overturned, either.
11:44: Since South Carolina hangs its hat on defense, that's a good re-consideration by Steve Spurrier. Yet, in the same breath, Vanderbilt has to feel fortunate that it conceded a mere field goal. This next drive's importance does not need to be explained. Jordan Rodgers needs to show something… to his teammates, his coaches, and the South Carolina secondary.
10:37: You were asking for a change in energy? You were asking for something from Mr. Rodgers? The neighborhood just became a better, happier place after that play. South Carolina's safeties completely butchered their angles and timing, but the Dores will gladly take it. Season-opening games in a sport without a preseason can be volatile… yet, with that having been said, I don't think many pundits or even Vanderbilt fans anticipated that turn of events. College football and "plot twists" go together, and that's part of the magic of this sport, back for another four-plus months.
9:48: It's good that mere faceguarding is not part of the college football rulebook. With that said, the nearside official could have committed contact on the play.
8:42: Lucky. Vanderbilt won't complain, though… not until that pass results in an interception.
6:51: You can choose to take a very technical, systematic line of thought in this game, using the most precise and multi-layered forms of analysis known to humankind. That's fine. I'll simply point out that this is a season-opening game in which two amped-up teams are finding it hard to fight through the nerves and the adrenaline of the occasion. The team that settles down and makes fewer mistakes in all three facets of play will win. To be a bit more precise, the team that makes fewer costly mistakes – the ones that turn five-yard gains into 70-yard gains; the ones that turn field goals into great drive starts for the opponent – will win. Sometimes, analysis just isn't that complicated.
2:11: That play started innocently enough, but on replay, it's clear that Shaw took a knee to the upper middle region of his back. That will sting for awhile, and Shaw definitely won't be back for the remainder of the first half. As for the second half… who knows? If he's out for the rest of the game, no one needs to be told how much that will hurt the Gamecocks.
1:36: South Carolina's best pass catcher tonight is Shaq Wilson, the man who plucked the interception in his own red zone in the first quarter.
0:52: WHY RUN THE BALL? SOUTH CAROLINA'S SECONDARY IS THE WEAKEST LINK OF ITS DEFENSE.
0:25: WHY RUN THE BALL? SWEET MERCY! In other news, Shaw has a shoulder contusion. That sounds nasty… and very negative for the Gamecocks.
0:05: Pardon me, but Jadeveon Clowney moved into the neutral zone first. Are you kidding?!
0:00: That's a classic Vanderbilt referee-aided miscarriage of justice to end the half. The Dores can't let it affect their mood once they emerge from the tunnel.
Halftime: Vanderbilt 10, South Carolina 10. It doesn't seem as though Connor Shaw will be back tonight. This might not be Vanderbilt's game to lose, but it's a game that can legitimately be seen as a contest played on even terms. Jordan Rodgers has to make better decisions with the ball. Vanderbilt's defense, which has been solid, needs to watch for a Spurrier "ball play, something it hasn't seen through the first 30 minutes.
14:01 left, third quarter: If that punt is caught (it had enough hang time), Vanderbilt would have started at the Carolina 40, not its own 49.
12:28: With the Gamecocks so (emotionally and offensively) vulnerable, that pancake-flat drive could cast a particularly large shadow over this game when it's all done and dusted. We'll see. The energy in the Vanderbilt huddle wasn't good, although the fumble on first down certainly didn't help matters. By the way, not one true deep ball has been thrown tonight… by either team. The Commodores could take a shot, but of course, they need their offensive line to hold up in order for that to happen.
11:01: Vanderbilt should be very grateful to Spurrier. With a quality passer in ideal game conditions, taking a shot down the field on 2nd and 1 is advisable. With a backup quarterback in for an injured starter, it's necessary to run the ball, get first downs, run clock, shorten the game, and trust the Gamecocks' defense. That very poor decision by Spurrier opened up that defensive stand for the Commodores. They're generating a lot of pass pressure and are giving South Carolina no appreciable openings through the air.
9:14: News arrives that Shaw will come back in the next possession for South Carolina. Since he's physically limited, that's not a thunderbolt on the breaking news scale, but it does give the Gamecocks a slightly better field general. Vanderbilt needs to post a number of some sort on this drive.
7:45: That's a very questionable spot, to say the least.
7:39: Thankfully, that spot won't become a big deal when this game is assessed and remembered.
6:36: That's the first high-quality play a Gamecock corner has made all night. Credit the Dores' staff for putting pressure on South Carolina's back line of defense.
6:03: Number – POSTED! Speaking of "putting pressure on South Carolina," Vanderbilt has now done just that… no, not in terms of testing the Gamecocks' secondary, but in terms of forcing Team Spurrier to respond to a scoreboard deficit without any passing attack whatsoever.
2:18: South Carolina doesn't have a tight end… or at least, the way Vanderbilt is covering short- and medium-range passes in the flat and middle areas of the field is making it seem that way. The Commodores are making the right reads and reactions, much more so than in the first half… and they were pretty decent in the first have. They're not getting gashed on quarterback keepers within the zone-read framework Spurrier now employs.
1:39: Gotta go for it.
1:04: That's a decision that's very hard to defend. Vanderbilt, as the underdog, needs to register kill shots and not play safe. Yes, South Carolina's offense is limited, but that's a 51-yard field goal as opposed to 4th and (only) 3 for a quarterback who is finding the range in the passing game.
End of third quarter: Vanderbilt 13, South Carolina 10. Vanderbilt has left a lot of points and possibilities on the field. Yet, it's not as though the game flow favors South Carolina. However, the Commodores need to drive a dagger into Cocky's heart. A dagger means a 10-point (two-possession) lead. If South Carolina gets any opportunity to win the game in the final minutes, history offers Commodore Nation a grim picture.
14:51 left, fourth quarter: That tackle has to be made short of the sticks. Ouch.
13:40: In one play, South Carolina gains field position and newfound leverage. Just like that (same as Vanderbilt's long touchdown in the second quarter).
11:25: Just. Like. That. It's not as though Vanderbilt's defense was terrible. South Carolina made a well-above-average pass play after doing nothing in the air all night long. Vanderbilt had to force Carolina to do something with the passing game, and the Gamecocks – who are not Akron or New Mexico State or Kentucky – showed that they have a little talent. It's the offense that has failed to give Vandy the upper hand, and it's the offense that must win that upper hand back.
11:15: An early lesson with these new kickoff rules: If you can't kick the ball seven or eight yards into the end zone, you're likely to pay a price at some point. South Carolina just paid that price.
10:44: Vanderbilt's pass protection was really good in the third quarter. There, on a high-stakes play, it wasn't. That's the challenge of becoming a winner when you lack the institutional or cultural history of a winning program: Winners make the plays that tip the competitive balance of a game. Vanderbilt's third-quarter excellence in pass protection could not deliver a dagger. (Franklin's decision to kick that 51-yarder didn't help.) When in dire need of a big play, the Dores couldn't answer the bell. Now, expect Carolina to lean on the clock and Vandy's defensive front.
8:21: Vanderbilt had enjoyed a field position advantage throughout the second half… until that Lattimore run. Big trouble in river city for VU.
5:17: It would have been very, very hard to see Vanderbilt winning if that pass had been caught. The call on the field was correct. Good job by the officials. Incomplete.
3:43: Yes, there's plenty of time left, but taking it nice and easy on this drive means it's likely the last chance. I'd increase the tempo. You want to have another chance if you fail. You also have three timeouts left.
2:20: Yep, you have to go for it this late in the game.
1:47: I've said this for several years at College Football News: Pass interference and other plays involving calls or non-calls on penalties should be subject to replay review. You just saw why.
1:29: Dear College Football: MAKE. PASS. INTERFERENCE. REVIEWABLE. IN 2013. PLEASE. THANK YOU! (Or should we say, "NO THANK YOU!")
1:03: No, Vanderbilt has never been jobbed like this before. Never. This never happens to Vanderbilt, right?
0:55: The painful reminder: Though Vanderbilt did in fact get jobbed, all those lost points and missed opportunities in the first three quarters are the kinds of things that the officials did not affect. Only the Commodores are to blame for those shortcomings, and as plenty of VU fans surely felt after that third quarter, those squandered drives probably were going to loom large. They did. The end.
Final score: South Carolina 17, Vanderbilt 13. SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH. Groundhog DAY? How about Groundhog YEAR? Sigh, sigh, sigh.